Into the Foolishness of God

The power of coming into agreement with God's Word and will

Are you starting to get a little excited for a new year? I know, we are knee deep in Christmas right now, but December goes by faster than any other month whether we want it to or not. Maybe I’m not supposed to admit this, but I always look forward to the post-Christmas cleaning of house, the blank slate feeling a new year brings, the plans on the horizon, and maybe some goals to challenge me.

Every New Year’s Eve, each member of our family receives a Bible verse for their year ahead. It’s not a magic verse, or the only verse to focus on by any means, just an encouraging word to nudge us forward into a new year with the reminder that Gods word is alive and working in us and to keep our eyes fixed on Him.

This morning I’m thinking on all the things that either pushed me forward into Jesus or kept me back this past year. Difficult things, trivial things, praiseworthy things… it can go either way. It’s good to look back with clear eyes at the seasons you’ve just come through.

Our culture puts a lot of phony pressure on the beginning of a new year, pressure to take that blank slate and make something of it. We go about things in our own power and feel like miserable failures by February. The thought occurred to me that Jesus doesn’t care about what our day planner says; every day we wake up is a new blank slate with Him.

We pray “give us this day our DAILY bread…” for a reason. Daily manna is the only way to be continually anchored and fed. We don’t ever skip a meal on Tuesday because we had a fantastic dinner Sunday night. It doesn’t sustain.

So if by week two of the new year we blow all our self-imposed goals, it doesn’t matter. Jesus wakes us up every morning and says “ok, how about today? Come and eat. Let’s do this.”

If I had to pick a word for the upcoming year, it might be “consistency”. I know that’s rather dull, but I’ve learned something this past year: we don’t need the latest edgy or flashy Christian-ish philosophies to keep us moving forward, we need to humbly present ourselves to God every morning for our daily bread.

Consistently.

Whether we are basking in the warm sunlight or tangled knee deep in the weeds, because both will come.

I want to soak in His words daily so that when the winds blow, I don’t blow over. The enemy wants to keep us stewing and fretting over the latest (fill in the blank) situation. He counts on us burying our noses in our work, our kids, our worthy causes, because he needs us to be inconsistent.

So I return again and again to 2 Corinthians 1:12 as a reminder that I at least desire to conduct my life in simplicity and godly sincerity. May I enjoy the good things of the world but not idolize any of them. May I value and love people, but never place my worth in their opinions.

A branch produces fruit because it stays consistently connected to its source. Disconnect it and you have a dried out stick.

We are commanded to bear fruit. Jesus came to give it to us in abundance. It requires not a great effort on our part or even much talent. Good fruit comes naturally as a result of staying connected. Daily. Consistently. When it’s boring and when it’s exciting, when it’s sunny and when it’s pouring rain.

It’s not a sprint. We don’t need little bursts of energy followed by a long absence. Jesus just wants us. He wants us every day in simplicity and sincerity.

Let’s ask for encouragement and clarity going into a new year, the Jesus kind, not the worlds kind. The kind that doesn’t rely on our own willpower but His power.

Happy early new year friends!

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A friend and I were talking about the inexplicable “blahs” we feel this time of year. No real reason for it, just a kind of nostalgic sadness not tied to any circumstance. December brings a lot of weird messages in our culture, conflicting ones to say the least. We are supposed to be making magical, lifelong memories while not falling into the trap of being too busy. We want to dazzle our kids and friends with the most thoughtful of gifts while not becoming overly materialistic. There’s a certain quality of life we are aiming for but culture screams at us through Black Friday ads and Christmas mailers to go for quantity because it will fill us up. We are pressured into acquiring all the things. What’s worse, we’ve now been conditioned to let the world know just how much awesomeness we’ve acquired for ourselves through happy little posts and updates. What. A. Racket.

Even in the best of circumstances, December just isn’t the holly-jolly memory making extravaganza it’s portrayed to be in the Christmas tree commercial. (You know the one, the whole extended family dressed to the nines, getting along perfectly as they admire their professionally decorated tree?) Of course there are beautiful, memorable times to be had, and we should embrace them and enjoy them. We are just trying so hard it seems and never really getting a hold of anything worthwhile.

We like accumulating and we positively thrive on quantity over quality. It’s totally normal now I’m told for teens to get 400 likes on a single Instagram post. I don’t think I’ve ever even met that many people in real life. As we fill up on worldly things, we hope it transfers over to a filling up of those spaces in our heart that sit empty. Where once we were satisfied sharing these moments with close family and friends, now we barely give them five minutes of our time.

Paul told believers to be living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). Jesus called on us to deny our selfish ways, pick up our cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). We aren’t very skilled in the art of living sacrificially. Selfishly, yes. It’s every man for himself out there. We pine for something we can’t quite put our finger on. We ache for something no person or gift can fulfill. We get the ‘blahs’.

The past few years we’ve seen a huge rise in the popularity of advent and the idea that there’s a reason for this longing. Most of us grew up without this concept. (My grasp of advent consisted of popping open a little door for a piece of chocolate each night until Christmas.) We should actually feel a bit out of sorts this time of year. Instead of trying to numb it with useless junk, Jesus calls us to come sit awhile with Him and learn how He’s the only one who can fill that void. He came to fill the void.

I’m all for it, I’m all for learning to wait. I want to know that it’s ok to feel inexplicably ‘blah’ this time of year. I want my kids to understand it’s not all about them. It’s not about fulfilling every material desire only to be led astray by a new one.

A mom told me last week that every single December her left eye twitches and her neck aches like crazy for no apparent reason. Her doctor told her it’s simply from stress. We all can relate. If it isn’t the logistics of getting the house ready it’s the strained relationships inside the house. If it isn’t the fear of the ‘what if’s’ it’s the regret of the ‘what was’. We hold our breath and let out long exasperated sighs. Honestly, I don’t know a single person who isn’t a bit relieved when it’s all over.

Nobody wants a twitchy eye all December. Nobody wants anxiety over the family get-together or the ugly sweater party to drive them to the brink. We all have our stuff, and that old snake that slithered into Eve’s head in the garden is all too happy to insert himself right into our December dreams and make everything a tangled mess.

Living sacrifices. Humble servants. We aren’t robots people, we don’t automatically default to “joyful” when the calendar flips to December. Jesus gives that though. He takes away our weird, sad, nonsensical feelings about this time of year and gives us joy unspeakable that is rooted in Him alone. So go make some memories, enjoy the season, embrace traditions, and know it’s ok to sometimes have a case of the blahs.

 

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Happy post-Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas season! It’s full speed ahead from here on out people, so hold on to your Santa hats. I’ve lost count of how many “simplify the season” Advent reading plans or books I’ve seen this week. It seems like every year the stores come out with more “stuff” to help us simplify. It’s kind of ironic.

I thought I’d share a little excerpt from an amazing book I’ve been reading by David and Jason Benham called Living Among Lions; How To Thrive Like Daniel In Today’s Babylon. The kids and I have taken our time in this book, we’ve been reading bits and pieces since the summer, and I find I keep returning again and again to it as we navigate our way upstream in a world that wants to carry us downstream with the masses. If you’ve never studied Daniel in-depth, this is a great place to start. The parallels between his life in Babylon and our current culture of crazy are amazing. I’m fascinated by the ability he had to know and hold on to his identity in a world turned upside-down. As we plunge head first into the season of gifting and buying and just general ‘wanting’, I thought I’d share this:

“Then Daniel answered and said before the king, “Keep your gifts for yourself or give your rewards to someone else.” Daniel 5:17
Daniels friends let it be known that the God of heaven was their King. Daniel himself kept his windows open and prayed in defiance of a king’s decree. Later in his life, Daniel refused the king’s gifts because his faithfulness to God didn’t have a price. He refused to be bought.
By gifts we mean the goodies of the world that stand in the way of the greatness of God’s kingdom. They come in any form of fame, fortune, or promotion promised by getting along with the world.
Daniels life didn’t have a price tag. His services weren’t for sale. No amount of worldly gifts for kingly accolades could deter him from his mission. He was a man of deep conviction, dedicated commitment, and undeniable courage; the grace of heaven was far more important to him than gifts of men.”

How are you ‘getting along with the world?’ Some of us are in deep. Most of us could probably stand to take a step back and think about it. Sometimes we need to tell the world, “keep your gifts.” This is the time of year where we have all the ‘stuff’ on our minds. We need to buy, we want to receive, the circle of ‘stuff’ is in full swing. In yesterdays mail, I received no less than ten shiny catalogues full of tempting things promising me nothing short of Christmas bliss if I would just place my order. All those things are great – until they aren’t. I think we’ve all been there when those scales tip in the other direction. The mall one week before Christmas. The credit card we should never have maxed out. The comparisons we make when someone else has what we want.

The thing I love about Daniel and his friends is that they were able to live and actually thrive in a world that was hostile to them at every turn. They never compromised with Babylon. They never idolized their gifts. There was a stubbornness about them that we would do well to have today – not in a hardness of heart/unkind way, but in a full surrender to what God wants over what the world says we need.

In this season of fancy packaging and gifts galore, lets take some time to evaluate just what we are seeking after. Contrary to popular belief, none of us really need the gifts from the mall as much as we need the security Jesus brings us. It’s almost cliche and that’s a sad thing, but can we please reel it in a bit starting in our own homes? No amount of shiny things, beauty treatments or perfectly decorated cookies is going to keep you sane or happy this season. The empty promises of the catalogues are just that. There are good gifts to be had and there are things we need to take a pass on.

Help us Jesus to value what is true and lasting over what compromises our heart and leaves us grasping for more.

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“Much of Christianity is trying to make things fit logically that do not match what you are seeing in front of your face.”

Well now aint’ that the truth. This is a quote that could come from a pastor or a seeker, a well-seasoned Bible professor or a disillusioned young person. It’s actually a comment I read from a “former-Christian” now atheist mother who writes about her journey from faith to reason, both relative terms I think. The funny thing is, I found myself agreeing with a lot of what she says. Here are some of her thoughts in a nutshell:

  • 21st Century Christians are basically the worst. They don’t even read the Bible they so easily thump over everyones head.
  • These above mentioned Christians are hypocrites because their words never match their actions.
  • The world just sucks, trying to reconcile a loving God to this hot mess of a planet we live on is too hard.

I’m paraphrasing her thoughts, but that’s pretty much the heart of it. Trying to fit the pieces together is an impossible and daunting task. I have to say, I’m grateful I don’t have a mind that cares to go to great lengths to disprove the creator of the universe. Call me provincial, but it seems like a ton of work. I sat through my share of college courses on the subject and none of it really impressed me much. I’m not criticizing critical thinking or asking hard questions, I just think the answers are usually not as complicated as we make them.

I’m always intrigued by people who have “left the faith” so to speak, the ones who at least have been presented with truth, lived it for awhile and then decided it’s not for them. My belief is that if you experience the real thing, the real Jesus, you’d never depart from Him. He’s too good. The truth is, they’ve never truly “tasted” as the Psalmist puts it, that the Lord is good (34:8). They’ve tasted bitterness, hypocrisy and indifference from fellow ‘believers’ and their perfectly valid questions have gone unanswered for too long. So they depart.

The basics of Christianity involve some paradoxes – we must die to live, become the least to be the greatest, be poor to become rich. We don’t value or live by these commands because we’re intent on our own ways and our own understanding. In the eyes of the world, surrender and humility get you no place fast. We want to be free to “be ourselves”, but our freedom comes through obedience.

It’s far too complicated a subject to solve with cliché sayings, these are people’s hearts. Her wounds are not my own and her experiences are different than mine. You know what she’s right about? Jesus-followers don’t know the Bible very well. By allowing the wrong people to spoon-feed us junk sayings and ideas, we lose. Christian-ish clichés like “everything happens for a reason” and “God never gives us more than we can handle” don’t save people from falling off the cliff, they push them right off of it.

So yes, trying to square Jesus with this world and reconcile what we see in front of our faces with what the Bible says is going to cause us to pause. It should. The issue is that we don’t dig deeper.

To the Christian who is a little too comfortable with just the nice-sounding platitudes, please go deeper. The pressure’s off, Jesus is the one who changes hearts. He wants to use you though, and we have a duty to share the good news. Know how to love someone back from the brink with actual answers. Remind them that God isn’t up in heaven somewhere eating grapes and being indifferent to us. Tell them about the reality of the unseen world and how the enemy works overtime to convince us that what we see is what we get.

Some people are just dead set on disproving everything a Christian has to say.  There’s always a “yeah BUT…” question to follow any answer. A hard heart is a difficult thing to pierce. But to the disillusioned who are turned off by all these shenanigans carried out by so-called Jesus followers… please pick up His Word. Don’t equate human behavior with the truth of who Christ is. We are all works in progress.

A lot of our drama could be avoided if we understood what He says about who HE is and who WE are in Him. He wants us to love Him with our hearts AND minds (Luke 10:27) which means we don’t check our logic at the door, but we are open to what He says. In return, He promises to actually guard those same hearts and minds with His peace (Philippians 4:7). Well, well well. Now that is an excellent promise if I ever heard one. I give Him my heart and He guards it. I give Him my mind, and He keeps it in perfect peace.

No fluffy sayings. Real meat and potatoes stuff that you can chew on. Christians need it. Atheists need it. Everyone in between needs it. All for Jesus and Jesus for all.

 

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We behaved with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God. 2 Corinthians 1:12

November days can be dreary. The world seems like a foggy and grey place as well. The past few days we find ourselves in a familiar cycle of shock, sadness and general confusion. We dig deep to understand the complexities of the human heart, usually ending up where we started, in our corner with the particular brand of beliefs or anxieties we started with. We start down rabbit holes that don’t have an end, find ourselves in labyrinths that just keep twisting, and notice our questions just lead to more unanswered questions.

We demand to know why evil is allowed to run amok, we fly around trying to figure out how to make it stop… we go through the same motions over and over again. With each awful, heart-shredding event, we bow our heads and repeat the anxious prayers of our hearts with the hope that they will somehow stick.

But this sin. This crazy, from the pit of hell, not real life sin… it has us pinned down. It can be bold and brazen. We see it on the evening news and we die a little inside at the reality of it all. It can also creep up silently and set up shop in our minds and hearts as we navigate a world gone off the rails. We hear people say things like “where is your God now and if He’s so good why does He allow such evil?” After the Texas church slaughter a fancy pants politician quipped “We have priests and rabbis to offer thoughts and prayers” hoping to push us away from such silliness and towards a law that would have prevented this mess. Wrong. I want to write four paragraphs about that quote alone, but just… no.

Those who have never experienced love have a hard time loving. Someone who doesn’t know the truth of prayer mocks it recklessly. Making fun of what you don’t know is weak. So we divide up into our two teams and reload. This is not sustainable behavior.

I don’t have any fancy answers and quite frankly, I’m tired of hearing the cacophony of talking heads on both sides. Sin gripping the heart of man was, is, and always will be the problem. If we know the story of Jesus at all, we know that the law was powerless to make men live right, but what the law couldn’t do, God did do through His Son (Romans 8:3). Change the heart and you change the whole man. Love doesn’t delight in evil but rejoices in the truth (1 Corinthians 13:16). Therefore, we have got to be in the business of being love and speaking the truth friends. Back to the Bible. Back to doing what Jesus instructed when He said “Go and make disciples.” We’ve got to get out of our comfort zones for this. It might get awkward. It might save a life.

So again, I go back to Paul’s reminder: “We behaved with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God.”

Behave and act with simplicity and sincerity. Not sticking our heads in the sand, but not running around like a chicken with it’s head lopped off either. The wisdom of the world is not real wisdom, it is anti-Jesus, anti-love and soul-sucking selfishness. We act by the grace of God. We live by the simple and sincere truths in His word. That’s how we find pops of color in a grey world. That’s how we find joy in tragedy. We aren’t immune to the consequences of sin, but we aren’t ruled by sin either. Joy that runs deep is our default setting dear friends – if you’ve lost it, return to Him in simplicity and sincerity and find it again.

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“As we study the holiness of God, we shall see in increasing clearness  how, like fire, it repels and attracts, how it combines into one His infinite distance and His infinite nearness. But the distance will be that which comes out first and most strongly. The sense of sin, of unfitness for God’s presence, is the groundwork of true knowledge or worship of Him as the Holy One.” Andrew Murray

Remember the story in Exodus 3 where God tells Moses to take off his shoes because where he is standing is holy ground? Moses hides his face in absolute fear, understandably so. We are well aware of our distance, of our unfitness. We feel it through our sin, our selfishness that we can’t always overcome, our flesh when it demands it’s way. It isn’t necessarily a bad place to be, but it does push us into making a decision: does it repel us from God further into our own darkness and hardness or does it bring us low and nearer to Him? God sees Moses’ pain and dilemma and shows him there’s a way out.  The man cries out “I’M NOT” (eloquent, ready, etc.) and God replies  “I AM” (all those things and more).

We are not, but He is.

We are not holy or worthy, but He is. He tells us “Be holy because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). The Old Testament makes us acutely aware of this distance, our unfitness to draw near, and the New Testament provides our promised savior who came and bridged that gap. If What is in Him, it now also in us. The holiness of God in the ‘old’ leads straight into the love of God in the ‘new’ – but it’s not a one way street. That love should point us right back around to desiring holiness.

We hear about the need these days to just love more. Yes and amen. Our greatest commandment is still to love God and love people. What does that look like? Love doesn’t just pop up as some separate entity or feeling because we want it to, not real love anyway. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). We all have the capacity for it, but it’s through Jesus that we are able to actually walk it out.

Be holy because I am holy. Love because I first loved you.

As we draw near the fire, we become holy and we receive the ability to love. Holiness gets a bad rap though sometimes – it means judgment gets reconciled with all that love. We need holiness. Not to go alongside our love, but to give birth to it in a sense, because without it, it’s just fleeting human emotion. Sin has hooked us and the world has guilted us into thinking convictions equal unholy and cruel judgment.  The “no hate”/”all you need is love” campaigns mean nothing without the backing of a Holy God behind them. If those things worked, we’d be living in a pretty wonderful world and we’d have no need for a Savior at all. Jesus came not to improve us, but to give us new life. His holiness gets grafted right into our very being. If we find ourselves empowered by the idea of love that starts and ends with our own awesome abilities, we are missing love the way God intended it to be, the emptiness of it all will eventually come to the surface.

Love flows out of holiness. It’s the source from which all else is made possible. It’s not some extra attribute we strive for like kindness or charity, holiness is the pure character of God where mercy and judgment join together. Sin has so desensitized us that we no longer recognize holiness or even seek it. Love is the idol of the day, it sits separate out on it’s own little island and gets trotted out by Christians and non-believers alike as a kind of argument-ending silencer – who can argue with love? It sounds good. Only a jerk wouldn’t want people to love more. It just doesn’t thrive without holiness as its foundation. When coupled with Christ, that love is tangible and unstoppable. When it is born of our own desires, it’s fragile and fleeting.

As believers, it’s vital we value and receive God’s holiness in our lives. It’s not something we strive after like some pie in the sky behavior chart where God gives us a gold star for good deeds – it happens when we let ourselves be drawn to the holy fire, not repelled by it. We must crave all of Him, the merciful and the holy because that’s who He is.

It repels or it attracts. It hardens or it melts. Don’t ever underestimate the need we all have for repentance and drawing near, even if it is uncomfortable at first. We don’t escape any hardship by pulling away from the heat, but like Moses we come to find out that He does actually hear us and see us:

“I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heart their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows… I will certainly be with you.”(Exodus 3:7-8)

Is love the way to holiness? Is holiness the way to love? Is it like the chicken and the egg? Here’s what I know: They don’t exist in a vacuum. God is all-loving AND He’s all-holiness… a contradiction that fits perfectly together when we stop focusing on just one.

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I love me a good ‘satire-as-truth’ article, so here’s a little bit of reality-based humor from over at the Babylon Bee:

SEATTLE, WA—After reading several chapters from the gospels over the weekend, local progressive believer Wendy Butler reportedly published a Patheos blog post in which she criticized Jesus of Nazareth for “not being very Christlike.”  

The blog post took Jesus to task for His “unloving and problematic” teachings.“He devotes entire sections of His sermons to ranting about archaic religious concepts like hell and the last judgment instead of just coming alongside the marginalized and affirming their sins,” Butler said. “Very little of what He did on earth I would describe as life-giving. Frankly, I do a better job of being Christlike than Christ Himself.”

Zing! Is anyone offended?

Our experiences lead the way when defining how we think about God, its partially true. It isn’t right, but it’s true. How can some have such a reverent outlook while others dismantle Jesus down to nuts and bolts only to put Him back together how they’d like to see Him? To be fair, it plays out on both sides of the fence, the end result being the same, a kind of build-your-own-Jesus that never really resembles the real one.

I’ve known people whose Jesus still lives up on a cross , defeated and sad. They revere Him but know none of His power. Others take a more charismatic view, Jesus is their sandal-wearing buddy, here to serve or comfort in time of need. We conveniently take certain passages from the Good Book and use them to reinforce ‘our Jesus’. Each side has their go-to verses they like to use: “He hung out with sinners!” vs. “He turned over the tables in righteous anger!” and everything in between.

Here’s the rub: we are all human with vastly differing views and experiences. The minute we start trying to form the Word to suit our agenda is the moment we might as well toss in the towel. We have to begin with Jesus. He is our starting place. We don’t need to pull out passages that prove our point, we need to just point to Him.

Jeremiah 29:13 says “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” 
We are told in Proverbs that wisdom and knowledge is found when we seek it out like treasure and when we cry out for discernment (2:3-4). We do have the answers, and they actually are kind of a “one size fits all” in the sense that Jesus is who He is. Now, of course He deals with us on a most personal level and it is a beautiful thing, because we are certainly not one size fits all people. He knows our life road map that got us where we are, our quirks, our wounds, the silly stuff we believe that may not be entirely true, He gets it. He just offers us all a clear lifeline out of the muddy waters and into the Living Waters of truth.

There’s a lot of buzz lately in Christian (especially womens) circles about the need to be brave and fierce and true to your ‘tribe’. It’s all about that ‘tribe’. That’s all fantastic, provided your tribe is grounded in the truth of God’s Word. We are meant to support one another, but we are not meant to replace Jesus for someone else. That’s the thing about following the feelings, they aren’t solid and what’s true today may not be six months from now.

There’s a lot of truth to the satire, we decide we know whats best and what Jesus really meant when He said such and such. We tweak it a bit to fit our desires. And it takes off like wildfire into the next thing and the next, and before we know it, Biblical Jesus is a blurry image in the rear view mirror and we are taking off full steam ahead on the feelings train that we have no business driving. When you have voices inside Christianity doubling down on distorting the gospels to fit a hurting culture, you wind up with half the listeners believing a lie and the other half left either in fear of speaking up or disgusted confusion.

“Your Jesus is meeeeaaannn. I don’t like mean. I like tolerance. Jesus loves everyone. It isn’t right to hurt and exclude people the way you do.” 

“Your Jesus is a hippie. The real Jesus stood for truth and justice and would never put up with sin. It isn’t right to be so permissive of outright sin.”

While we’re busy firing off cheap shots at the other camp, that ugly snake slithers away hissing and grinning at having performed his duty to perfection.

When Jen Hatmaker and others came out in support of gay unions as godly and permissive, the church understandably fired back. I read a LOT of the responses and fallout when this happened and I can honestly say the disagreement was for the most part, civil but strong. Her response to it all was to attack the ‘Christian Machine’ that oh so predictably called her out on her claims. There were many heartfelt, well thought out responses to their very heartfelt departure from Biblical teaching. I’m not attacking her, I’m pointing out that when we place our self and feelings at the center of our arguments its a losing battle. When the argument becomes about ‘you’ it’s over. The vast majority of people weren’t attacking her, they were standing up for long-held Biblical truth, which, by the way, we are supposed to do in love. If our response is to shut others down and (like the lovely young lady in the satire article) imply we have the upper hand on compassion that Jesus Himself doesn’t seem to have, well then, prepare for some healthy debate coming your way.

We are all fallible and prone to wander. We all want the latest hot take of how to make this life thing work to our advantage. Most Christians I know of, Hatmaker included, want to mend hurting hearts and bring people to Jesus. Nobody wants to be smacked upside the head with a hard cover King James and told they’re scum. And those who have been pulled from the ledge will tell you they don’t want to be coddled in their sin either. (See Rosaria Butterfield’s beautiful essay on that topic if you want to be encouraged about speaking truth in love).

We are mandated, by Jesus Himself to love our neighbor (Mark 12:31) AND honor Christ as Lord, being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; doing it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). So the two dueling-Jesus guys actually do meet up in the middle! They both exist! Let the truth speak for itself. We miss so very much when we try and mold Jesus to be how we want Him to be. Let the entire Word of God be your home base, your safety, your map; the real Jesus will show up in ways you’d never expect.

 

 

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I noticed on ‘the Twitter’ today that “world mental health day” is trending. For those less inclined to serious topics, it’s also “national handbag day”, so take your pick. A day for literally everything, because someone started a hashtag. It’s fascinating. I’m all for a mental health day though, the world feels positively apocalyptic lately. The keyboard life-coaches are out in force, giving us tips on loving ourselves, giving ourselves a break, and doing more yoga. (I’m not kidding, I just read a tweet that said veganism and yoga are the way to perfect mental health.) I think bacon is, but whatever. Hashtag #BreakfastMeats…

I’d like to offer up the non-fancy, not-new (but AMAZINGLY EFFECTIVE) idea that all the self-help on the planet and awareness campaigns aren’t going to help chase the demons we all deal with away. Quickie solutions sound good, but why oh why do we need other messed up humans to tell us how to not be messed up?

I’m not making light of needing help. Who doesn’t? We struggle more than ever with fear, anxiety, depression and everything in between. I’m saying, if there ever was a lasting answer, it’s found in God’s word to us, not in some guru’s latest bestseller.

Here’s why: God created us to live with sanity and sound minds. 2 Timothy 1:7 is one of my favorite verses in the whole Bible, it says “God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” I struggle with fear. Fear of letting my kids out the door some mornings. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the known. But that fear isn’t from God, its the enemy whispering into my ear to disable me. The world feeds on fear, even if they don’t realize it. Twenty-four hour news cycles, disgusting tv dramas that elevate death and gore to an art form, commercials telling us we’d better get these  pills because new this disease is gonna get us. On and on.

We long for a sound mind but we don’t spend any time at all pursuing one. And we wonder why we are riddled with such manic instability in our culture. Our kids are pressured to compare themselves to everyone else, to be perfect at all times and always win the trophy. Middle schoolers are racked with issues I never even knew about at their age. They are living their lives based on what feels right or doesn’t feel right, and have become lost to the idea that a sound mind settled on Jesus is the rest they long for.

There’s a popular little idea going around that assures us we aren’t really the problem, the messy world we live in is the problem. I see the meme all over and it drives me nuts, takes away my sound mind, you might say. People, sometimes we actually are the problem, as hard as it is to admit that. Our selfishness, our refusal to obey and do our own thing, it gets us into trouble. Jesus takes care of all of that if we let Him. It takes humility, not pride in our abilities. He alone is our mental health solution. He promises us a sound mind, He took the place of all our shame and guilt and made us FREE to move forward in perfect peace.

Please don’t fall for the trendy sayings and feel-good band-aids for such deep issues of the heart. Don’t fall for the lie that you can replace the emptiness with material things or status updates or someone else’s idea of truth. The fact that we are “shocked” when humans we’ve put on a pedestal fail and act as humans baffles me. Friends, we are all human and not one of us has an upper hand when it comes to issues of the heart, unless we’ve handed our lives over to Jesus.

We have a duty to run after holiness, to pursue Jesus the way He pursues us. When our focus is abiding in Him, our mind is set in perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3). He keeps us steady, sane, sober and healthy. No shortcuts, no cute hashtags, no useless symbolic awareness campaigns… the living word and Jesus Himself. Anchored and at rest in a world that is tossed to and fro.

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This week marks the 20th anniversary of the passing of one of my personal ‘giants’ of the faith and great influences, Christian music artist Rich Mullins, who died in a car accident on his way to a benefit concert. If you don’t know who he was, give his music, lyrics and writing a try, I promise you’ll be challenged. I say “challenged” here instead of the usual “you’ll be blessed” for a reason: this guy was different, downright weird at times. His work and life were indeed a blessing to many, but in a way you just don’t see much of anymore.

Raised in a semi-Quaker family in Indiana, Rich attended Bible college and began working in church choirs as a piano player. Seeing the effect music had on teens, he chose to pursue it full-time as a career. His huge break came when Amy Grant recorded his song “Sing Your Praise To The Lord” which, if you ever went to church youth group in the 80’s, you know by heart. By the late 80’s he found himself moving to a Navajo reservation to teach music to kids. When asked if he went there to convert them to Christianity, he said “No. I think I just got tired of a white, evangelical, middle class perspective on God, and I thought I would have more luck finding Christ among the Pagan Navajos. I’m teaching music.” 

I had the chance to see him play at a little Presbyterian church in my city when I was in sixth grade. He arrived barefoot and unkept. He looked homeless, and he often was indeed, living out of a car. He set up only a keyboard on a stand, sang a handful of songs, and I was undone. His lyrics were complicated, they were  deep, some weird, and the songs were like nothing we had ever heard in our Presbyterian hymnbooks. I bought his cassette for five bucks (that’s how we ancients got the lyrics to songs in those days) and memorized everything. I began journaling all the stirred-up feelings those songs invoked in me. The Christian bookstore at the mall started really marketing his “Awesome God” album. I remember it well because I had the t-shirt, poster AND the keychain attached to my DENIM Bible cover (very important in the early 90’s). Nowhere did you every hear or even see Rich Mullins’ name on any of it.

Other artists came and went, but Rich Mullins’ work was the soundtrack to my coming of age all the way up though college. When I went to live in France for a summer, I had recorded his song “Step By Step” off the radio and had it on my Walkman. I literally wore the thing out listening to it every night before bed. I vividly remember crying every time I listened to it, I was homesick for Colorado and God was showing me I was really homesick for bigger things.

What hits me hard this twenty years on is just how much I miss examples of artists like him. The guy had problems, like everyone, and he never tried to sugar coat them with deflection or false feel-good substitutes for Jesus. He questioned and he cried out. He yelled at people. He struggled. There was something in him, however, that never stopped pushing into Jesus, and the more he did that, the smaller he became in his own eyes. God was God and he was man. He had a compassion for the poor and suffering that transcended church walls and a passion for the truth of God’s word that wouldn’t allow him to wander off into his own interpretation of it. What a combination.

It’s that mix of compassion for people and passion for truth that I miss. A lot of our examples today (the loudest ones anyway) are out to promote a mix of Jesus and themselves. They aren’t pointing to Jesus as much as they’re pointing to their version of Him, which is always a weird mix of do-it-yourself, live your own truth humanism. I can’t help but wonder what he would be like in 2017. In a day when we are all huddled in our theological corners, I’d like to think he’d be the guy standing with Jesus AND the hurting. In truth AND love. He said our lives as believers should make nonbelievers question their disbelief and make them thirsty for the truth.

You know how drinking soda makes you more thirsty? That’s how I see a big chunk of American Christianity now, a giant fast-food buffet that’s making everyone more sick and more thirsty, because we’re being pointed to the wrong things.  Platforms over people. A domesticated Jesus. People working backwards from their arguments to the Bible instead of beginning with God. And for what? The masses aren’t being driven to Jesus, they’re being directed to selfish idol worship.  The day you are focused more on a personality than on Jesus is the day you need to reconsider who you are following.

I feel blessed that I had an influence that set the bar high. Rich was no saint, and it’s for that reason I’m forever grateful for his faithfulness and his voice. He was never concerned with relevance, but with reverence. He accepted the mystery of it all, the beauty of not having everything figured out, and quite frankly, he just didn’t care what people thought. Imagine a collection of Jesus-loving truth tellers like that today. I know they exist, and I’m grateful. I just wish the other voices weren’t as loud. His work and writing brings me back to the feet of Jesus and there are few these days who do that. His words make me long to get deep into God’s word. He was not ashamed, and it reminds me to we must not be either. It’s amazing how things have changed in just 20 years. My ‘Awesome God’ t-shirt wouldn’t be as cool in the hallways, it would probably be protested. Rich’s laissez-faire attitude towards marketing and selling music would put him solidly at the bottom of the influencers list. The world says we are narrow. I say we need to get even more narrow. Keep zoning in our sights onto Jesus until the rest is a blur. Jesus + a bunch of other stuff = nothing. He helped teach me that. He showed me we are our most genuine when we are most surrendered. Maybe you have someone whose work has influenced you in this way? I hope we all do. Someone who points you to Jesus is someone worth keeping around.

“The hardest part of being a Christian is surrendering and that is where the real struggle happens. Once we have overcome our own desire to be elevated, our own desire to be recognized, our own desire to be independent and all those things that we value very much because we are Americans and we are part of this American culture. Once we have overcome that struggle then God can use us as a part of His body to accomplish what the body of Christ was left here to accomplish. 

If my life is motivated by my ambition to leave a legacy, what I’ll probably leave as a legacy is ambition. But if my life is motivated by the power of the Spirit in me, if I live with the awareness of the indwelling Christ, if I allow His presence to guide my actions, to guide my motives, those sort of things. That’s the only time I think we really leave a great legacy.” Richard Wayne Mullins

 

 

“…that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life.” Philippians 2:15-16

As we prepare to send the kids back to another school year and prepare for the changing of seasons, I’ve been praying over how to pray for them. As they grow, you move into uncharted territory with these not-so-little-anymore people and prayers that once seemed enough don’t feel the same anymore.

Their world gets bigger, their circles grow, they aren’t safely sheltered anymore but very much exposed. The idea of sending them out to the world is terrifying at times. My instinct all summer was one of “prepare, prepare, prepare…” for whatever that’s worth. Prepare for the good and the bad because they both will come. And so we do. We impart what we can to them and pray some of it sticks.

And Jesus reminds me this morning that it’s not about my preparation or lack of it. It isn’t in the little verse cards they made for their lockers. It isn’t in my attempts to get it all said, because there will always be more to say. It’s in knowing who God is and who we are in relation to Him. And so I was lead to this verse in Philippians that reminds us of some basic truths;

  • It’s a crooked world. We can live holy and pure in the midst of it.
  • It’s a dark world. We are called to be the light.
  • How do we do it? We hold fast to His truth.

That’s worth more than all my well-intentioned lectures or lessons. It’s not from a fancy best-selling book of the month, it isn’t dressed up or altered in any way. It’s just God’s roadmap for us. I love the simple.

Love God. Love each other. Hold fast His words. Be the light.

 

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